March 1, 2015
Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8
Let the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be alway acceptable in thy sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen
The first letter to the Thessalonians was a letter reminding the Christians at Thessalonica to be looking for the second coming of Christ, to be prepared as though his return was imminent. It is, as all the letters are, a letter to us as well, reminding us to be prepared for Christ’s imminent return. This view, the constantly looking for His second coming is one that the Church has typically lived in. So dominant in the thought of the church that classical Christian architecture calls for the church to face east, that is when the Christian worships, he worships east, for he is looking for the son of man coming from a cloud from the east.
This constant and expectant looking is a part of the Christian life, we are to be constantly preparing for his coming. We are to live with an eschatological view, that is a view that looks for the end of this time.
The idea of eschatology, the word and the thought process is one that we should all become comfortable with, if we are not. Eschatology is the study of the end of times, for some it can become almost neurotic obsessive study. Perhaps you remember the popular late 90s early 2000s Christian fiction book series called “Left Behind,” which played off of people’s fears and made a good deal of money for the author. But an eschatological view is a view that looks forward to the second coming of Christ, that prays “come Lord Jesus comes,” and causes the believer to live as though their life has eternal meaning.
Now living with an eschatological view doesn’t mean that we are to be doomsday preppers, or to not care for material items, whether it be taking good care of our vehicles, the environment or listening good music and justifying this apathetic attitude with the idea that the world will some day be destroyed we faithful Christians will be whisked off into heaven to be with Jesus. Both of these views are not a healthy or helpful eschatological view. Instead we live as though these days do mater, how we live and what we do have eternal consequences because we know that when all of time is complete God will create a new heaven and a new earth, so we trust that this life maters and the things of importance God will redeem. This means that the Christian is to live as though Christ is coming back tomorrow but at the same time with intentionality and purpose in this day.
Now, before we start to look at the passage for today, I want to look at a classic western Christian explanation to the question of how then should we live? Sometime in the 4th century monks developed from the book of Proverbs and other sources what are known as the seven deadly sins and subsequently the seven virtues. Now these seven sins and virtues aren’t a core part of Anglican theology or even reformed theology, they are integral in Roman Catholic theology and I do think they are worth hearing about at least once.
The seven deadly sins can be said in various ways but they are typically listed as: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride, in some lists more archaic language is used, but this modernized list is sufficient. We see all these as being things that St. Paul’s writing and others condemn, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see how destructive these actions might be in the Christian’s life. The seven virtues, four cardinal and three theological are prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and love, the first four being the cardinal and the latter three being the theological. Cardinal virtues are those virtues that almost every culture has revered as to what makes a good person, they were first defined in pre-Christain Greek philosophy, and the theological being those found in the bible, and the most important, and if we remember St. Paul’s famous treatise on love in his first epistle to the Corinthians. We remember that love is the one that will last, love is the virtue of all virtues.
Now please don’t think that I have gone on a serious tangent, but these things are good to know, because the question of “how should we live in a fallen and broken world?” is a question that should be on the front of our mind, and while there are certainly other formulas for looking into the the sin in a life and as guides to how we should live.
For example another excellent way of checking our consciences and inspecting the inner part of our hearts is earnestly inspecting them against the back drop of the Ten Commandments. This is the reason why we read them monthly for they reveal in us our failings. Likewise the seven deadly sins are very practical guidelines to check our hearts as well. Have we chased our lusts allowed them to take over our hearts? Have we been gluttonous for more than we could possibly want? Are we greedy? Have we been lazy when we should work hard? Responded with wrath when mercy or justice were needed? Been envious for others blessings? or lived with pride? In the same way the virtues are a response to these things.
The question of how then should we live is always one we must wrestle with, and one St. Paul talks poignantly about throughout his epistles. Not that it is our work, or our life saves us, but we are to live worthy of our calling as children of God. These virtues are the the thing that grows of a vibrant life in Christ. Instead of lust we live with chastity, that is we live with an appropriate sexual affections. We act with temperance, instead of gluttony — one glass of wine, or one hamburger is sufficient, not an entire bottle or three burgers. In lieu of greed we act in charity or love. In place of sloth we act diligently, we work hard and are not afraid to toil with the work we are called to. When we might wish for wrath and vengeance we must live with patience, allowing God to be the one who doles out justice. Instead of envy, kindness of the Christian life is one of kindness towards all people and instead of pride humility understanding that all our goodness stems out of the goodness that God has put in us.
So this is how we ought to live, seeking the virtues, the lifestyle that is laid out in scripture. It is when we struggle, when we give these things to God that we learn to be sanctified. If we find we are struggling with a given sin, we are called to confess them, primarily to God, but some sins we must confess them to our confessor. With some, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox the confessor is the priest, some Anglicans accept this too, though, I would simply suggest that there be someone whom you can confide your personal struggles are, a Christian friend of the same sex is often best for this. If you chose a priest he is to help you work through whatever problems have besieged your hearts and in your repentance assure you of your forgiveness. It is in our constant turning and repentance we seek sanctification by seeking virtue, which comes from God.
We turn now to our epistle lesson where St. Paul emphasizes how destructive sexual immorality is, it is an action that St. Paul is insistent we flee from, time and again he warns against it. For this reason lust is one of the seven deadly sins. Sexual immorality has haunted both the church and culture through out their entire histories, and certainly we probably all know of at least one incident that is closer to home than we would care for. So, why is it that we have such a hard time with this one and St. Paul is so insistent upon it?
Our modern culture would tell us that behaving rightly in sexuality is no big deal. The world would tell you, “really, it’s no big deal, whatever floats your boat.” Perhaps the most recent evidence of this comes from the particularly disturbing recent release of a film that was adapted from a rather horrible and popular book that glorified abuse and domination of women. There are of course other examples the deteriorating sexual morality in culture, but this one is recently and powerful.
I think sexual immorality is so dangerous because it is so to go astray, the gratification is so quick and when it captures our imagination it so quickly takes our mind off God. Yet at the same time at the time when one stumbles into it seems so docile and perhaps even normal. Yet the destruction builds exponentially. For this reason, I suspect St. Paul identifies it as so profoundly important to keep our sexual affection in check. Practically within the church this means that the single person is to abstain from sex and the married person is to enjoy only the person to whom they are married to, for sex within the covenant of marriage is a good thing, and in fact a part of that covenant.
With sexual immorality more than any of the other sin a person can so quickly lose control of all things — but the Christian is called to have self control, to act out their life in holiness and honor. This isn’t some stuck up self-righteousness but it is acting in kindness, it is acting in faith, it is acting in the eternal hope of the final promise of Christ’s return and it is, most importantly acting in love — the fullness of love, self giving and unselfish love.
Holiness is delighting in the world, it is laughing with those we love, it is being kind to all people — the creepy bum, your estranged sister, your obnoxious coworker. Holiness is loving those who have wronged you, and forgiving them with an open heart. Holiness is not keeping score, is not holding yourself higher. Holiness is knowing that the source of your holiness is God Himself.
When we live in self control and holiness we flee from the winds of the world, we flee from the things that push us around like a leaf in the wind. The Christian is steady, we follow the spirit, but we follow it not as some wild dog chasing a piece of paper being blown down the street. We follow it while checking the word of God, we follow it with Godly council. We fight the destructive fires of lust that can ruin lives, break hearts and destroy our relationship with God.
Lust, perhaps more than any of the other sins destroy our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ, it builds up distrust, they demolish the communities that Christ so carefully forms in our churches. It was for this reason that the New England puritans made infidelity a capital crime. For they realized such things were so evil that it was better to be rid of such people than to risk a community falling apart. This attitude certainly lacks the grace that the church must exemplify, but it does help us to understand how severe and painful lust can be on the oneness of the church.
We are to repent and flee from such things because this destructions not only destroys communities but it breaks God’s heart and for those who have been warned and do not flee such things, or for those who are unrepentant of their actions, God will have the revenge of those who have been hurt. That is to say — their is justice in the end. So we must flee lust.
So flee immorality, whatever immorality may tempt you or haunt you and run towards Holiness and by the grace of God, he will give you holiness. When you struggle with sin, pray, pray for God’s grace and strength and over time it will come more and more.
The final verse from todays epistle bears looking at it from a different translation, for despite the beauty of the King James Version, sometimes the translation is a bit incomprehensible, the verse reads in the English Standard Version as: therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. It is a heavy statement, but what is says is, these things come from God and we know them because they are laid out in scripture and they are laid on our heart by the power of the holy spirit.
For the holy spirit is the one who develops our conscience and if you remember other passages by St. Paul, what we know of as the conscience is the law that is written upon the flesh of the heart. So we must listen to our conscience and we check it regularly by reading scripture and by praying.
If we boil it down all which we’ve said and learned today it can be summed up as we must flee immorality — but we must flee towards God, we must flee towards love. We must live in God’s love and act in love that writes on our hearts a conscience, that builds within us the virtues of God. This is what we were made for that through the grace found in Christ’s death, given by the Holy Spirit we are being remade into someone who can live in a relationship with God.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen